Rayess Bek and La Mirza — ‘Love and Revenge’

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Randa Mirza (L) and Rayess Bek (R) during their recent performance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi
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Randa Mirza and Rayess Bek during their recent performance at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. A scene from "Love & Revenge" projected on the screen behind them.
Updated 05 May 2018
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Rayess Bek and La Mirza — ‘Love and Revenge’

  • The viewer is taken back to an era of cinema that probably won't be recreated
  • “Love & Revenge” was recently at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights

DUBAI: There’s a scene early on in “Love & Revenge” that epitomizes the poignancy in Rayess Bek’s and Randa Mirza’s audio-visual ode to a cultural golden age - clips of classic Egyptian cinema set to contemporary electro-pop reworkings of vintage Arab songs. 

In a sequence of scenes taken from Hussein Kamal’s 1969 film “Abi Foq Al-Shagara,” the Egyptian star Abdel Halim Hafez poses self-consciously in front of a camera in Baalbek, Lebanon. With him is the actress Nadia Lutfi. As their love affair unfolds on screen, they laugh and embrace and kiss. All is set to Bek’s masterful reworking of Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s “Ya Msafer Wahdak,” sung by Nagat Al-Saghira.

It’s a sad piece of film to watch. Not because of its beauty, innocence or freedom, or because of the snapshot of an unspoiled Lebanon that it provides, but because you know, deep down, that nothing like the original film or music can ever be created again.

At the heart of “Love & Revenge” is the realization that the Arab world seen through the prism of the golden age of Egyptian cinema bears little or no resemblance to today’s world: A world in which expressions of love, romance and sexuality have been effectively erased. As such, “Love & Revenge” can be viewed as an attempt to reclaim a more liberal past; one where Hafez is free to embrace Lutfi on screen at will.

Created by Bek, a former Arabic hip-hop trailblazer turned audio-visual collaborator, and Mirza, a video artist, “Love & Revenge” was at the Louvre Abu Dhabi for two consecutive nights last week, and brought with it a keen sense of nostalgia.

Even the title is important, taken as it is from Youssef Wahbi’s 1944 film “Gharam Wa Intiqam” (Love and Revenge), the last movie to feature the singer and actress Asmahan, a Druze princess who died in mysterious circumstances before the film was finished. It is Bek’s mid-tempo, beat-heavy reinterpretation of Asmahan’s “Emta Hataraf” that is arguably the project’s standout track.

Yet, for all the perceived freedom depicted in “Love & Revenge,” with the possible exception of Asmahan the movie scenes chosen by Mirza represent a man’s vision of women. Even now, that cinematic vision is only slowly changing.


Anime adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

Updated 19 May 2019
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Anime adventure as Kingdom joins forces with Tokyo studio

 

CANNES: Anime, or Japanese animation, has been a favorite with young Saudis for decades and now the Kingdom is about to star in a feature-length production of its own.

Manga Productions, a subsidiary of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, will collaborate with Tokyo-based Toei Animation to produce a feature film, “The Journey,” which will be partially set in the Kingdom 1,500 years ago. 

Toei, the studio behind animation franchises such as “Dragon Ball Z,” “One Piece” and “Sailor Moon,” will bring top Japanese talent to the project, including character designer Tetsuro Iwamoto (“Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney”) and composer Kaoru Wada (“Inuyasha”).

Manga is keeping many plot and location details secret, but has released a teaser trailer and poster revealing the name of the film’s hero — Aws.

A poster for the upcoming film. (Supplied) 

“The film is talking about old civilizations in the Arabian peninsula — a people who are trying to protect their city from a strong enemy,” Manga CEO Bukhary Essam told Arab News. “The hero has a backstory that no one knows and which will affect the destiny of the city.”

Animation work on “The Journey” will be done in both Riyadh and Tokyo, with 12 Saudis involved in story development, character design, preproduction, storyboards and coloring.  The film will take two years to complete and will employ a production team of over 330 people.

The joint production will help develop Saudi talent so that an industry can be built in the Kingdom, Essam said.

Manga CEO Bukhary Essam. (Supplied)

“Our ultimate goal is to transfer the technology and know-how to Saudi talents so that by 2030 Manga Productions will have the capability to produce animation by itself,” he said.

“Most young Saudis loved Japanese animation when we were kids. We believe it’s time to export our characters and our heroes to Japan and the world. We don’t want to only export oil and petrochemicals, we want to export arts, animation, video gaming and manga to a global audience.”

Essam’s love of anime and Saudis’ passion for the art form helped convince Toei Animation to take on the project.

“It’s not just a movie — it’s about cultural exchange and forming a connection between countries, Shinji Shimizu, Toei’s managing director, said. “Japan is at the top level worldwide, so we can help Saudi Arabia develop its animation industry.

“We Japanese don’t know much about the Middle East or Saudi Arabia, but we know that Saudi people love to watch Japanese animation.”

Manga is employing historical advisers to ensure the film captures Saudi Arabia’s authentic past, while a Japanese team has returned to the Kingdom to scout locations for the production.
 
According to Shimizu, the Japanese team sometimes gets carried away making designs look “cool.”

“The Saudi team will say, ‘no, it should be real.’ We give honest opinions to each other. Everything is being made with the suggestions and opinions of the Saudi team,” says Shimizu. “Japanese people are not familiar with Middle East culture, but as they make animation together, they learn from the Saudi team about their culture, language and traditions.

“It’s really fun for them, too. We have differences, but I realized from making this animation together that we’re all just human — we are all the same.”

The film will be released in both Japanese and Arabic, with an English version possibly to follow.

Manga and Toei’s first joint production was “The Woodcutter’s Treasure,” a 20-minute animation based on Saudi Arabian folklore. The team is also producing a 13-episode animated TV series.